M&A

Graham Seddon

Graham is the co-founder of Altitude Accounting, a UK-based accounting and financial advisory firm specializing in founder-led, high growth businesses in Europe and North America. Graham has more than 25 years of experience in professional services and technology, and advises CEOs and senior leadership teams on financial strategy, reporting, preparing for investments and how to use data to drive business goals. Prior to founding Altitude, he was a managing partner at Menzies, a 450-person UK chartered accountancy, where he was responsible for the firm’s largest office, developing its digital finance strategy and creating a new service line offering part-time CFO services. Graham currently lives in London but is often in the US working with clients and attending any live sporting event he possibly can.

Why are you passionate about helping high-growth, founder-led businesses?

My passion to elevate business owners was born out of my own family experience. My parents ran their own business as a newsagent and postal office for their entire lives. Like most entrepreneurs, they were great at some aspects of business but needed support in others. Knowing what you are good at and how to use your gifts to help others has proven over and over again to be the most rewarding element of the job I do. I’ve been able to use my accounting and strategic skill sets to help people just like my parents achieve their goals and aspirations.

As the youngest partner at Menzies, a 100+ year old chartered accounting firm in the UK, you developed their digital strategy for finance. How has the cloud and digital tools transformed finance?

Technology has driven huge changes in accounting over my career, but cloud computing has had probably the biggest impact. The ability to see, manage and collaborate on the financial picture anytime, anywhere, on any device has made it so much more efficient to work across multiple businesses. One of the biggest areas it has impacted is forecasting. The tools available now make it so much easier to look ahead and plan for future growth. The ability to scenario plan, adjust as actuals unfold and report in real time have transformed how business leaders can operate in real-time.

You have been an interim CFO and advisor to a number of founder-led businesses over the years. How do you help them establish the right processes for growth?

The most important thing for me is to know the business and what makes it tick. There are many similarities across services businesses but every business is different. Taking time to really understand the key drivers to revenue and profitability are vital before you build the right process and systems. Once you know those drivers, you can make better decisions on the technology and data needed to run the business and look ahead to where the business is heading. How those systems can and should integrate with other elements of the business is also vital. Scalability is key to ensure that implementations are going to stand the test of time as the business grows and evolves.

As a services company looks to accelerate growth and scale, the move from cash to GAAP accounting becomes more important. What advice would you give CEOs looking to make the transition?

The move from cash to GAAP accounting is a necessary step for companies looking to maximize value for investment or a potential exit. Without the benefit of GAAP accounting, a business may be undervalued and the time spent in due diligence can be a distraction from focusing on the business.

Doing the work upfront will deliver real value and help create better business decisions, but it will be a transition and it’s important to understand the impact the move will have. For example, some of your fundamental KPIs may change and you will likely need to update certain metrics to reflect the new approach. When making the switch, I always recommend shadow accounting the previous 2 years, and re-modelling budgets for the current year based on GAAP accounting. This will provide management with greater clarity into how models will shift before it becomes the primary view for managing and reporting on the business.

Beth Torrie

Beth is the founder of Torrie Communications, a firm specializing in analyst relations, positioning & messaging, as well as customer-centric marketing. Beth has spent 20 years in technology, helping companies large and small differentiate and grow their business. With 5 successful exits under her belt, Beth has a reputation for transitioning goals into results. She specializes in using customer-driven differentiation, market research, industry analysts and upstream influencer programs to fine tune and amplify the right messaging and increase revenue. You can listen to her podcast about analyst relations here.

Why are you passionate about helping services businesses?

Services organizations have unique challenges in that they need to differentiate on their people, expertise, certifications, support and services. Many times, minor tweaks to packaging and positioning can make a big difference in revenue without major investments.

You have been working with industry analysts for 20+ years, building analyst relations programs inside organizations and now as a consultancy. When is the right time to start a formal analyst program, and how should companies measure success?

Analyst Relations programs are resource intensive in terms of research contracts and executive time. It is important to start when you can answer the most important questions: Who is your ideal client and why? What do you offer that no one else does? Can you share five customer success stories that highlight  your differentiators?

Where do you think companies go wrong when it comes to getting a better return on their analyst investments?

Research contracts are very expensive; I see a ton of folks simply not using them, or not using them enough to justify the costs. If your organization purchases a research contract, the value of that contract needs to be justified on a regular basis. It’s also really important to identify the goal of the research relationship. Is it influence, learning or both?  And then to make sure every interaction is working to meet one of those goals.

How do you help your clients work with analysts to become a more frequently recommended vendor?

When analysts hear a well-honed value proposition, they connect that value with problems they hear in the market. Analysts speak with hundreds (or more) clients who need vendors to help them. The first step is to create a clear,  carefully constructed differentiated message to help the analysts understand how your services help your clients. When you share that message, plus a great roadmap and customer references who can back it all up, you’ll have the attention of the analyst. Analysts genuinely want to connect end user clients with vendors who are going to help solve problems. Then it’s a matter of engaging those analysts in a consistent and collaborative way that influences their agenda and perspective on you and the market.

You’ve built customer reference programs for a number of companies over the years. Where should companies start when it comes to building a program like this?

Any company looking to grow will need references for sales, investors, partners, analysts, press and more. It’s important to have a centralized source of who the best customers are, their status, their NPS (even anecdotally), transparency and reporting for the requests the organization is making for each reference, and if possible, the results of those reference calls. Customer reference programs take a unique level of organization and communication, but it starts with assigning an owner, and it should be someone senior. There should be a discussion at the C-level at least every month to monitor this topic.

Bob Maller

Bob is the President and Chief Culture Officer of Collaborative Solutions, and an expert at growing teams, practices and partnerships in the fast-moving cloud computing space. To call Bob an IT services veteran might be putting it mildly. He started his consulting career in the ‘90s at global consultancies Accenture and Deloitte, before going on to manage consulting teams at PeopleSoft. That experience served him well when he joined Collaborative Solutions as its second employee. Over the years he’s grown Collaborative to more than 1100 employees and Workday’s longest tenured partner. Along the way, he’s also created a firm well respected for its work, culture and dedication to diversity, winning a ridiculous number of Best Places to Work awards. Collaborative was acquired by Cognizant in 2020, and Bob continues in the same role at Collaborative as Cognizant’s standalone Workday practice.

Why are you passionate about helping people-based businesses?

When we developed our core values at Collaborative, the clear first value was People. While it can be cliche to mention People as a core value, it’s the businesses that truly nurture and develop their people who are most successful — especially in services. Real magic happens with collaboration, which is why when you’re building a firm or a practice, teamwork is such a critical trait. The “smartest” or most-skilled person may not be a fit for your organization if they don’t thrive as a member of a team.

As the second employee at Collaborative Solutions, you grew the firm from a niche PeopleSoft federal contractor to a ‘crown jewel’ of the Workday ecosystem with more than 1000 employees. What was the most challenging part of that early journey and what was it when you reached scale?

In the early days, the challenge was to differentiate ourselves. As we became a Workday partner, the fear was that we would build a practice and the large SIs would swoop in to hire them away. This is why hiring the right people and building a sustainable, employee friendly culture was, and is still, critical.

Our first acquisition (a Workday consultancy in Australia) was also an interesting milestone. Integrating them into what was then a North American-centric business and making them feel a part of the Collaborative family took real work.

At 500+ employees, I no longer knew each employee, which was a very weird feeling. We needed ways to stay in touch with each other and keep engagement high. So we launched the Collabie Convos series (intimate video calls with 15-20 employees) to discuss a variety of topics. We also put a lot more emphasis on developing the people in the firm to become leaders and great ambassadors of our culture. It cannot just be the senior leadership team who sets the tone for the culture.

You’re a huge advocate of culture and inclusivity. What is the key to scaling culture as the company grows, expands and evolves?

It starts with formalizing and promoting your core values. In the early days, it’s about defining and discovering those values as a founding team. As we got larger, it became very important that every employee around the world knew what our core values were and why we had them. We reinforced them daily and worked them into our processes. They weren’t just words or phrases on a wall in an office.

Selecting and developing the right leaders within your practices is also critical, and should constantly be reviewed. These are the leaders that new hires will look to, even more than the executive team. Do you have the right leaders? Do they exemplify our core values? Did we promote people into areas they cannot handle and would be better suited as individual contributors? We, as leaders, cannot be afraid to ask these questions and make adjustments along the way.

When it comes to inclusivity, it simply needs to be a priority – a focus from the top down. I’d also highly encourage instituting a buddy and/or mentoring program to indoctrinate people into the company and to ensure that they have someone to help navigate their careers within the company.

Keeping employees engaged is never easy, but it can be even more challenging during rapid growth and downturns. What are some things leaders can do to keep engagement high throughout a company’s lifecycle?

The first thing is to survey your employees, but just as importantly, do something with the results. Show your employees that what they told you is valued and, if it needs work, that it’s being addressed. I am a big believer that surveys are anonymous and people understand that improvement is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. For trust to flourish, leaders need to be vulnerable and transparent. Talk to your people more often than you think, through a variety of mechanisms. Use video as much as possible when communicating important things (as opposed to a flat email that no one really reads).

Darshan Deshmukh

Darshan grew up as a leader across a number of supply chain services and consulting organizations. He has helped global service organizations of all shapes and sizes improve their efficiency and effectiveness, and scale up their operations and customer success processes. Darshan started his career with IBM in various global leadership roles and managed service delivery in the US, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia. In his tenure at IBM, he built large delivery centers focused on globally integrated operations. He also built and led the Global Delivery Organization at Denali, a procurement services firm that was eventually acquired by WNS in 2017. Here he led the post-merger integration and integrated procurement services operations within the company. Post Denali-WNS, Darshan built and led customer success and professional services organizations for OpenGov and Icertis, both hyper-growth SaaS software organizations.

Why are you passionate about helping people-based businesses?

I am passionate about building sustainable people-based businesses. For any people-based business to grow and be successful in the long term, I believe they need to build a balanced three dimensional system focused on people, process and technology. I am a big proponent of building organization capability organically while building scale, and I feel a strong sense of fulfillment when an individual within the organization grows as a professional within a system I helped develop. It’s ultimately all about people and their ability to drive incremental change to build a business with long-term value.

As a services organization scales, having global delivery centers becomes more important. What should founders consider before expanding into a new region?

As founders look to develop global scale through international delivery centers, they need to transition to a “Communities of Excellence” model that is focused on efficiency, effectiveness and innovation. The intent of global delivery is to capitalize on talent globally and to scale productivity, but it’s also about adding customer value. When founders are thinking about expansion, they should ask themselves, “does my decision lower the center of gravity closer to the customer?”

From there founders need to assess:
1. Is the talent pool available?
2. Do I have a corporate culture that embraces globalization for growth, profitability, efficiency and effectiveness?
3. Am I willing to invest in the initial curing period so my organization, and ultimately my customers, will realize the benefits?

You’ve grown delivery organizations from the ground up with Denali, at a mid-sized organization with OpenGov, and in later stage companies like IBM and Icertis. What’s consistent across different size organizations, and what changes as you grow?

What makes any size delivery organization successful is the ability to meet and exceed the implied promise you’ve made to customers. Most organizations focus on written commitments, but when you change the organization’s DNA to assume the statement of work is table-stakes, and incentivize everyone in the organization to meet and exceed that customer implied promise, it drives incremental change quickly.

Simplifying goals is another key learning from my experiences building organizations. If a leadership team can agree to 3 or 4 goals for each functional organization, with one shared goal, it takes care of most of the organization tradeoffs and debates in a fast growing organization. I realized that this exercise is much harder than we think once you start implementing it though. Humans have a tendency to complicate decision making.

Later stage organizations have a much bigger internal change management issues (aka bureaucracy). It’s always important to be mindful that balancing faster decision making with quick adjustment can be more disruptive than spending time driving consensus. But getting the “goals simplification” strategy right can take care of these lifecycle challenges.